Why rights-centric politics is not a politics of freedom


Exchange-value (and exchange-relations) is not in and by itself value (and value-relations). Rather, exchange-value (and exchange-relations) is appearance or representation of the essence of capital that is value (and value-relations). Hence, juridical rationality — or rights — is the appearance or representation of the arbitrary and irrational operation of social power but is not in itself that mode or structure of arbitrary and irrational (and hence entirely political) operation. Conversely, even as value-relations as the arbitrary operation of social power necessarily inform exchange-relations and the juridical rationality of rights in their constitution, the former is irreducible to the latter.

In other words, even as the essence (value or arbitrary operation of social power) must and does appear (as exchange-value or juridical rationality of rights), appearance (exchange-value or rights) is not the essence (value, or social power in its arbitrary operation). That is demonstrated with a fair bit of clarity by Marx in the first volume of Capital. The problem with a political subject that envisions freedom as right is that it misses this dialectic between essence and appearance, and thus hypostatises the essence into its appearance – or, conflates essence with appearance. The politics of rights then is no more than exertions to correct (reform) the asymmetries of exchange, which presupposes the legitimacy and continuance of the rationality of exchange-value, and thus the legitimacy and continuance of the irrationality of value-relations that is the former’s constitutive mode.

Such politics of rights, needless to say, serves to reproduce and reinforce exchange-relations and its constitutive value-relational mode by merely displacing rights deprivation to yet another historically concrete moment or location of the capitalist social being. In other words, the subject that envisages politics in terms of demanding rights is one that is interpellated and articulated by the logic and structure of value-relations. Its politics of making a concrete moment of exchange less asymmetrical succeeds, if at all, by way of increasing the asymmetry in yet another (qualitatively old or new) concrete moment of exchange. This is precisely what technical recomposition of social labour by capital, through its re-segmentation, amounts to. In such circumstances, a politics driven by demand for various rights – including workers’ rights – cannot be affirmed and embraced as the politics of the working class. In its basic impulses, such politics is petty bourgeois, reformist and restorative, not proletarian and revolutionary. The ‘understanding’ of political economy that animates such political impulses is deeply Ricardian, and not at all Marxist.

That is, however, not to claim that the question of rights-deprivation stands rejected from the standpoint of revolutionary working-class politics and Marxism. But, for a Marxist, there is surely the need to distinguish between rights-deprivation — as an objective systemic fact and a concomitant subjective experience — being an inescapable question for working-class politics, and the politics driven by demand for rights. Only a liberal dimwit or nincompoop would think they are one and the same thing. And that the abandonment of one is tantamount to the jettisoning of the other. Rights-deprivation is a revolutionary question not because a politics ought to be made out of demanding the absent rights – the rights one is deprived of. Rather, it’s a revolutionary question because it enables one to cognitively access and concretely target value-relations (or the arbitrary, and thus entirely political, operation of social power) in and through their determinate appearance as (or mediation by) a particular exchange-relation whose particular asymmetry is what the absence or deprivation of a particular right amounts to.

This, among other things, demonstrates how a group of rights-deprived individual subjects could grasp and seeks to actualise the social subject sedimented in its individual selfhood or subjecthood precisely through the concrete experience of right-deprivation that is constitutive of that particular subjecthood in its individualised salience. What this, in other words, means is that the individual right-deprived subject is egged on by his/her experience of being thus right-deprived to struggle, not for the winning over of the absent right for that individual subjecthood, but for the destruction of the value-relation that is represented by the concrete exchange- relation constitutive of that particular individual subjecthood and its objective factuality and subjective experience of being deprived of the particular right in question. Clearly, such destruction would also mean the disavowal of the particular individual selfhood/subjecthood that experiences the particular right-deprivation in the first place because that individual selfhood/subjecthood is constitutive of value-relations that are sought to be destroyed by accessing those relations through their mediation by the particular exchange-relation in question that determinately instantiates the value-relations.

What this operation of the social subject actualising itself evidently means is that such individualised subjecthood, precisely on account of its constitutive experience of rights-deprivation, risks its existence as that individualised subject to emerge as the social subject that tends towards abolishing the structure of value-relations in and through its determinate representation by a concrete instance of right-deprivation (or asymmetry of exchange). Clearly, the operation constitutive of such risking of existence of individualised subjecthood – the agentic subjecthood of rights – is a politics not of ending various particularities of rights-deprivation. Rather, it’s a politics of abolishing the general condition of such particular and particularised rights-deprivations – and the juridical realm of exchange they are integral parts of — through and in its constantly shifting determinate instantiations. Hence, one must think freedom as risk, not as a right.

The difference between politics of freedom as right and politics of freedom as risk is then the radical modal difference between two kinds of intervention on the same concretely apparent terrain of exchange-relations. The former driven towards ending particular rights-deprivation by demanding the absent rights, the latter geared towards unravelling value-relations, and its concomitant force-field, which constitute the condition of possibility of juridical rationality of rights – and thus rights-deprivation – in their determinate instantiation in and as a particular case of rights-deprivation. It’s in this latter sense, and not in the former, that one ought to understand, among other things, Benjamin’s insistence about every moment in history being a strait-gate through which the messiah can come in.

It must also be mentioned here that legal equality has as its necessary condition of possibility substantive/social inequality. Besides, the former in its existence also acts back upon the latter to reproduce and further reinforce it. If one attends to Marx’s A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right — to say nothing of his brilliant demonstration in Capital of how concrete labours (qualitative singularities) are rendered differential quantities of “human labour in the abstract” through qualitative equalisation — even half carefully, one would see that.

Immediate forms of oppression in the capitalist social formation get registered as rights-deprivation and legal inequality. But such registration is, for subjects of struggle against those forms of oppression, precisely part of the problem and not its overcoming. Struggles against oppressions must be struggles against the structure of exploitation, which is the necessary condition of possibility of various concrete forms of oppression, and not struggles for rights and legal equality. Subjects struggling against various forms of oppression must recognise those oppressions for what they are — that is, oppressions — and call them by their name, and not register them in their subjectivity as legal inequalities to be remedied.

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Criticise with weapons even as you wield the weapon of criticism, but don’t mix the two up


That our wielding of the weapon of criticism does not exhaust and preclude the task of criticising with weapons is something Marx says in his A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Needless to say, old chap Karl is right on the mark. But through this formulation of his, Marx is also clearly drawing our attention to the fact that the weapon of criticism and criticism with weapons are two different levels of abstraction of the indivisible real movement of the universalisability of the singular. And in revealing that real movement in and through its two different levels of abstraction, Marx is asking us, his readers, to be attentive to the fact that the indivisibility of the movement – precisely that which renders such movement real — from one level of abstraction to the other does not mean those levels stand conflated. Clearly, one cannot have criticism with weapons at the level that is constitutive of the wielding of the weapon of criticism, even as the movement from the one to the other has to be uninterrupted for it to be real. The respective discursive specificities that operationalise through inscription the different activitities of criticism (which are singularities in and as those different activities) of respectively different discursivised rationalities must be attended to, and maintained in and as their difference, for them to retain their respective singularity. This, needless to say, is not a blow for local ideology formation and discursive rationalities. It’s precisely meant to be a critique of such local ideology formation, albeit obviously in the specificity of the local. The universality of such singularities is, therefore, clearly not about rendering them mutually conflatable, and thus replaceable, which would amount to their de-singularisation.

Such universal-singular is, instead, a movement constituted in and by the unlapsed indivisibility of different moments of criticism (as activity) of respectively different discursive rationalities. These different moments of activities of determinate criticism of different discursive rationalities (read ideologies) are nothing but different moments of performativity of differing away from different identities. This is precisely what many of our comrades — who have fallen into the easy but extremely damaging habit of getting drunk on Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feurbach without any sense of how one is supposed to drink this potion — miss when they seek to drag criticism with weapons on to the level of the weapon of criticism. The result: ad-hominem attack on producers of ‘rightwing’ philosophical, scientific and aesthetic works passing itself off as polemical criticism of their works. As a consequence, what the weapon of criticism amounts to, in such circumstances when it stands conflated with criticising with weapons, is throwing out the baby of such theoretical, scientific and aesthetic thinking and production with the bathwater of what the practitioners of such thinking and/or producers of such theoretical, scientific and aesthetic works would have their engagement in such practice yield. So, ad-hominem attacks on producers of such works on account of their politics as thinkers, scientists, artists is extended seamlessly to the politics of the process of theoretical and/or aesthetic production they are engaged in. Hence, the labeling, and rejectionist abuse of such theoretical and artistic work — without any attempt to dialectically separate such work as the instantiation of the process of its production that renders the work text from the work per se in its asserted completeness — has become de rigueur at the level of abstraction constitutive of the weapon of criticism.

Of course, there cannot be any dispute that the task constitutive of the level of abstraction of weapon of criticism is to inquire into how a particular theoretical, scientific, or aesthetic practice (and thus process of production) produces the ontic effects it does to dialectically brush the former against the latter in order to reclaim it in, as and for itself. That is what Althusser’s class struggle in philosophy – or Marx’s wielding of the weapon of criticism at the theoretical level of abstraction it is constitutive of – arguably amounts to. However, that, contrary to the widespread assumption among comrades, is not at all the same as judging such theoretical, scientific, and/or aesthetic practices (or processes of production) by the effects or the ontic violence they produce. In other words, while class struggle in philosophy – or Adorno’s theoretical moment of class struggle – is all about figuring out the particular articulation of theoretical, scientific, and/or aesthetic practice (or process of production) that produces a certain kind of effect or ontic violence, it’s certainly not about rejecting theoretical, scientific, and/or aesthetic works that when grasped as such effects are rendered thinkable as instantiators of those theoretical, scientific, and/or aesthetic practices (or processes of production) in the specificity of their concrete articulations.

In short, while a theorist/philosopher, scientist and/or artist must be criticised with weapons – i.e. shot – for politically practising and purveying the violent and oppressive ontic effects they produce a la their rightwing discourses; those discourses as instantiations of theoretical/philosophical, scientific, and/or aesthetic practices (or processes of production) cannot be labelled rightwing, counter-revolutionary, status-quoist philosophy, science and/or art, and thus junked into the waste-bin of history. Rather, they should, as mentioned above, be engaged in the internality or immanence of their practices, or processes of production. This, in order to grasp their incompleteness, and lapse of rigour, that leads them to produce the violent, reactionary, status-quoist ontic effects they do. For, without such engagement — and their rejection would amount precisely to a refusal to engage with them in their processual internality – theoretical, scientific, and/or aesthetic practice will always remain open to such lapse of rigour, and thus also to the politically pernicious consequences concomitant with such lapse. And being a card-carrying radical is absolutely no guarantee that one will not be the locus of such lapse of rigour in theoretical, scientific and/or aesthetic practices (or processes of production). History has, time and time again, demonstrated that.

Therefore, in order to be a committed militant of revolutionary transformation one must be committed to the actuality of the real movement in its indivisible unfolding from the level of abstraction of the weapon of criticism to the level of abstraction of criticism with weapons, precisely by maintaining their separation from one another as two distinct levels of abstraction. A committed militant would, therefore, be one who makes himself/herself constantly aware that while there are thinkers/philosophers, scientists, and/or artists, who are rightwing, reactionary and/or status-quoist, there is or can be no rightwing theory/philosophy (better philosophising), science, and/or art. For instance, Heidegger and Schmitt, and Pirandello and the Italian Futurists were, as philosopher-individuals and artist-individuals, part of rightwing political projects in their respective countries (Nazism in Germany, Fascism in Italy). But that does not, therefore, make their philosophising/thinking and writing rightwing as such. Rather, what we need to figure is how and why do they have their philosophising and aesthetic production construe themselves as things that seamlessly blends with the reactionary political projects they participate in as philosopher-individuals and artist-individuals. That, presumably, is how one ought to also approach the ‘relationship’ between anti-communist and/or anti-working-class politics of such Indian writers and poets as Nirmal Verma, Ajneya, Ashok Vajpeyi, Kunwar Narayan, Satinath Bhaduri and O.V. Vijayan and their literary production.

Not surprisingly, the absence of such awareness among most militant comrades has ended up making their practice an integral part of the pernicious political logic that they seek to destroy and which is supposedly affirmed only by their opponents, who claim that the theoretical and artistic works they produce exhaust the task of criticism in its entirety by having the level of abstraction of criticism with weapons – or the singularising moment respective to that level of abstraction — disappear into the level of abstraction of the weapon of criticism. [Of course, the militant task even here is to make sense of this lack of awareness in supposedly militant political practices in terms of its material basis.] This, then, amounts to a reinforcement of the constitutive duality of “party of philosophy” and “party of practice” that Marx had criticised in the Introduction to his ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ in order to break with it.

Pragmatism and theoreticism – notwithstanding the appearance of their unmitigated enmity with one another and, in fact, precisely on account of such ‘enmity’ – are essentially the same. They are a constitutive diremption; a disjunctive synthesis. Revolution, or communism, can, in such circumstances, be nothing else but a movement that is real. And a movement will be real only when it’s a movement of breaking with this constitutive duality – this disjunctive synthesis – of pragmatism and theoreticism. Hence, a movement is a real movement only when it constitutes itself through abolishing, resisting and precluding the suture of the level of abstraction of criticism with weapons (the level of practice, wherein practice is the instantiation of its own immanent thought) with the level of abstraction of weapon of criticism (the level of philosophy, wherein thought is its own practice of thinking). As the Swiss-German writer Robert Walser put so acutely: “Everything at its proper time. So, fighting and throwing stones at its, and good intentions at its. It’s important to know every side.”